Monday, July 28, 2008

Nutt Paints Rosy Picture

In a decade where the Southeastern Conference has won three of the last five national titles, it may be presumptuous on new Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt’s part to think that the Rebels can contend for the SEC crown in 2008.

Even when every national and regional media outlet believes that Florida, Georgia, LSU and Auburn are the most likely choices to win the SEC title and possibly compete for the BCS title, Nutt believes that there are nine or 10 teams in the league that can find themselves on top of the list and that his Rebels are one of them.

“I would put us in there. Again, I’m not saying that, boy, you can give us our bus ticket to Atlanta. But what I am saying, if you walked these athletes in from each of those nine or 10 teams that I’m talking about, you would see that there is a lot of athleticism, a lot of good athletes that can run, jump, hit you, block,” Nutt said during his address at the SEC’s Media Day event at the Wynfrey Hotel. “What I don’t know is who’s going to get hurt, who’s going to stay healthy, who’s going to get the ball that bounces just right. There are a lot of variables and factors involved.

“We’re trying to change the mindset of our program,” Nutt added. “We want to win. We want to win right now. I think it would be unfair to say, ‘OK, we’re going to rebuild, just kind of gradually.’ I think that’s unfair to our seniors. I can’t say we kind of got to start rebuilding a little bit now, we’re going to work our way up. We’re not built that way. Our staff is built to ‘let’s go, let’s go as hard as we can, and let’s go right now.’”

Energy evident

The energy Nutt displayed at Arkansas has been evident ever since he was hired to replace Ed Orgeron this past November. Nutt’s passion for the game, coupled with his vast experience in the SEC as a head coach, make his words that much more believable to the players that the Rebels can actually be in position for a bowl game.

“My goal is to win, and that’s what our team’s goal is too,” UM senior offensive tackle Michael Oher said Thursday. “Coach Nutt is a great guy. He’s a great coach and he’ll do a lot for us this year. He knows what to do and what to say, and what he says we do because we respect him.”

A change for the players has been good during the offseason according to Oher and defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who was also on hand to visit with the media Thursday. Nutt was asked about his new surroundings in Oxford and how the fresh start has been for him personally.

“From the moment (wife) Diana and I and (daughter) Haven walked into the (Gertrude) Ford Theater in Oxford and have 1,500 people there, I can’t tell you how we felt that day. That was a day full of goosebumps, it just reenergized us from that moment forward,” Nutt said. “Then you go into the meeting with the players, you see that hunger again, to see how they embraced our coaching staff, it excites you, it motivates you. It makes you want to please. It makes you want to work a little bit harder. I think it’s been an excellent transition.”

Arkansas game discussed

Of course, Nutt was asked if he ever thought about the meeting with his former team, Arkansas, which is slated for Oct. 25 this year.

“You can’t help but think about it. You grew up in Arkansas. You thought at one time you’d be there for life. I had 10 great years of experience there working with some great people,” Nutt said. “We won three titles. Two of the teams went to Atlanta (for SEC title game). We were very close against Florida in winning that (title) game. So we had some great days, great times there. You can’t but help but think what it’s gonna be like coming in from the visitor side. But quickly my mind goes back to Memphis.”

Nutt’s first game will be against the Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Aug. 30. Following that contest, the Rebels’ first road game under Nutt will be played at Wake Forest on Sept. 6. Ole Miss’ first SEC game comes at home against Vanderbilt Sept. 20.

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